If someone asked you whether or not batteries really store electricity, what would be your response? Most people would answer in the affirmative. That is because we have settled for a simplistic explanation of a technology we don’t understand. This is not a bad thing, by the way. Sometimes simple explanations are best. Nonetheless, the truth about batteries and the energy they store might surprise you.
In short, batteries do not store electricity. They store energy. There is a significant difference. To understand that difference, you must first understand two basic principles:
- The definition of a battery; and
- The difference between kinetic and potential energy.
Are you intrigued? If so, this post is for you. Keep reading for a better understanding of what batteries actually do.
What Batteries Are
Let us start with defining what a battery actually is. The scientific definition can be quite complex, so let’s condense it to more understandable terms. A battery is essentially any device that can store energy in chemical form, then transform it into electricity on demand. This definition opens the door to both wet and dry cell batteries, as well as other types.
A lithium-ion battery from a brand like Pale Blue Earth is a dry cell battery. As such, it is a closed-circuit device capable of being utilized for an extensive range of applications. Dry cell batteries rely on a chemical paste to induce the reaction necessary to generate electricity.
Your car battery is a wet cell battery. Rather than utilizing a paste, it relies on a liquid electrolyte to produce the necessary action. If you were to open the top of your car battery (please don’t, it’s dangerous) you would see the liquid electrolyte inside.
Batteries and Potential Energy
With a basic definition of the battery, it is time to move on to its relationship with potential energy. Physicists understand potential energy as energy at rest. Its opposite is kinetic energy, which is energy in motion. Battery manufacturers design their devices around potential energy.
Potential energy is energy that, in its current form, isn’t doing any work. But once activated, its potential comes out. Hence the name. The potential energy inside a battery cell is found in the chemicals the battery contains. Within those chemicals is energy waiting to be released.
That energy is not electricity. It is chemical energy. A reaction needs to take place inside the battery before it can produce electricity.
How a Battery Works
Now, let us put both components together to understand how a battery works. Again, take a lithium-ion battery from Pale Blue Earth. Its internal components include a paste with lithium in it. The ions in that lithium move back and forth.
When you charge a lithium-ion battery, you are using electricity to push the ions from the positive end of the battery to the negative end. The battery is fully charged when all of the ions are at the negative end. Install that battery in a device and turn it on, and the battery begins discharging.
Discharge occurs when the device’s circuit is made complete. Completing the circuit allows the ions to return to their normal position – the positive side of the battery. This movement produces electricity that flows from the battery to power your device.
No, a battery doesn’t actually store electricity. It stores chemicals that produce electricity when they react. And now you know. If someone ever asks you how much electricity your batteries hold, you can confidently respond ‘absolutely none’. Then you can go on to show how smart you are by explaining how batteries really work.